As I sit at my desk being stared at by a stuffed turtle surrounded by sand dollars, Australian mice, gut contents of a snake, Indo-Pacific fishes, a set of lizard dentaries, and a donation form for a frozen hermit thrush and yellow rail, it occurred to me that many of the typical tasks of curators would be considered atypical, if not downright bizarre, for anyone not working in a natural history museum.
For example, I just got off the phone with someone who was thinking about donating a taxidermied wolf. We frequently receive offers of wolf and bear rugs, various African animal skins, skulls and bones, along with window-killed birds. Before we accept any one of these interesting and generous offers, I need to determine if it meets the mandate of the Museum, is in good condition with quality data, has been legally obtained, fills a gap in our collections or might meet an exhibit need, as well as take into consideration storage issues (is there enough space, do we have the resources to maintain the item properly over the long term).
Earlier today, I took a baby rabbit out of the freezer that was such a donation last year. It needs to thaw so that a university student volunteer can make a study skin to add to the collection. The student is gaining a museum skill and learning mammal anatomy, experience useful in her pursuit of a science career studying mammals; the Museum gets some specimen preparation gratis.
Another phone call comes in: how long do monarch butterflies stay in the chrysalis before hatching? [About two weeks.]
Everyone gets e-mail. But one of mine involves obtaining an old Marsh Wren nest from Oak Hammock Marsh to replace one in an exhibit that was damaged. They know of some nests, when can I come out and pick it up? Another e-mail is from a colleague at The Natural History Museum in London dealing with the visit of my PhD student to his molecular lab where she was extracting DNA of a genus of goby found on coral reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific.
In the wet lab here, I just changed the fluid for a series of toads I collected in the Interlake during the spring. The switch from formalin (a nasty fixative) to 70% alcohol will ensure their long-term preservation and make them easier to use for anatomical studies examining the northern hybrid zone between American and Canadian toads. Next up is preparing specimens of Hudson Bay brachiopods for a loan to an eastern Canadian researcher looking at chemical composition and climate change.
Now to get back to correcting the page-proofs so I can get that paper on colour variation in garter snakes published… or maybe I should review the new text panels for the snake den exhibit.
So, what did you do today?